After my divorce, I lost all of my material possessions and my bank account was empty.
That's what I saw when I pulled up in front of my pristine suburban house: my home, with its infrared sauna, hot tub, travertine tile flooring, copper pots and gourmet kitchen; my sanctuary, surrounded by lush gardens filled with organic vegetable beds, where I lived with my husband and our cats.
My time had been filled with book club meetings, yoga classes, and board game nights with the neighbors. I had monthly facials, massages, and bi-weekly mani-pedi appointments at swanky salons. My highlighted hair was perfectly maintained and my closet was filled with chic outfits purchased at posh shops.
Huge piles of contractor bags spilled all over the sidewalk. When I hopped out of the car, I realized that all of my personal belongings had been thrown away. I saw my high school yearbook, photo albums, jewelry, clothing, and my books poking through garbage bags.
I couldn't believe my eyes.
A few weeks prior, I'd told my husband that I wanted a separation. He became extremely upset and threatened to kill himself, telling me he was going to throw himself down a flight of stairs. I didn't know what to do.
He was a practical and intelligent man. Yet, here we were, eleven years into our marriage and I didn't recognize him anymore.
Our relationship had fallen apart after infidelities and an unsuccessful stint with counseling. He was depressed, emotionally abusive, and I didn't want to waste another day of my life.
There was no going back for us. I rushed the divorce, not fighting him on anything. I just wanted out.
The attorney warned that I wasn't asking for enough yet I insisted I only wanted help staying afloat for two years. I asked for health insurance and three hundred dollars a month to help cover my expenses.
In my ignorance, I thought I'd be up and running in a few months and wouldn't need any support at all. I realized later on this was a poor choice.
I relocated to a new city and moved in with a flashy guy I'd only been dating for a few months. It was so passionate, exciting, and refreshing to live a completely new life. I didn't have a job secured but the new romance (and amazing sex) distracted me from worrying too much about that.
It was extremely difficult to secure gainful employment. I sent my resume everywhere, applying to any job that seemed to be a good fit. Eventually, I looked much lower down the totem pole and took a job scrubbing floors and bathrooms for a local business. It was humbling, to say the least.
I wasn't earning much, and to top things off, my ex-husband stopped paying for my health insurance.
Then, things got even worse. My boyfriend became demanding and announced that I'd have to start paying half of the rent and expenses in order to continue living with him.
I was devastated. I thought he loved me and knew I was struggling financially. I thought he'd be there through this rough patch and help me get sorted out. After all, it'd only been a few months since my divorce was finalized.
One night, I came home and he told me to get out. Just like that.
He'd been in and out of therapy for anger management; it wasn't working. He was like a kettle that was about to boil over and I feared he might physically hurt me.
I took off with only my purse and car keys. I literally had no place to go.
A colleague let me stay at their house until I found my own place. I realized that night that I had very little money squirreled away and I was suddenly, utterly on my own.
It's really something to be crying in a guest room while there's a happy family downstairs snuggling on the sofa. I'd never felt more alone in my life.
I stayed there for a bit, but never relaxed. The knowledge that I had no place else to go was terrifying. I couldn't sleep and panicked over what I'd do and where I'd wind up.
I sorted out my few belongings, hopped into my car, and started looking for a place to live. I realized quickly that I'd be looking at not-so-safe neighborhoods.
Given my meager income, I searched Craigslist for the cheapest places available. I looked at one place that was a former chicken coop, many basement apartments, and lots of furnished rooms that smelled like mold.
Eventually, I took a studio smaller than the walk-in closet I once had and moved into a low income housing complex. A week later, a dead body was found in the dumpster out back.
I worked my cleaning job and started teaching fitness classes at three studios. I had to charge my groceries and gas; I wouldn't have made my rent otherwise.
One month it was so bad that I had to visit a food pantry for groceries. I never took food for granted after that experience.
I worked around the clock for a year and eventually found my footing, at least enough to keep a roof over my head. I adopted a kitten from a shelter and started making new friends.
I wasn't saving any money but at least I stayed afloat. I started to feel and embrace a new freedom. It was so liberating to not have anyone telling me what to do for the first time in my life.
I realized one night that back in my suburban days, I'd had a consultation with an expensive, sought-after shamanic healer. She predicted that I would lose everything but that I'd be happy.
She said, "You'll have no furniture. I see you sitting on a floor eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but you're smiling." Oddly, I wasn't shocked by her message. I felt like things would unfold that way and it actually excited me. I had completely forgotten about that encounter.
She was right; I'd lost all of my material possessions, my bank account was empty, and my cushy suburban housewife status was gone.
But I was free — free to eat breakfast for dinner, do laundry at midnight, go on a date, or stay in and dance around my kitchen in pajamas.
In the end, I lost a bunch of stuff, but gained a freedom I'd never give up. I was broke, but I was free.